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Motorola reads the writing on the Palm

The company's new iSketch software lets handheld owners handwrite notes, sketches and signatures onto their devices and then wirelessly send them as if they were e-mail.

Motorola is writing on your Palm.

The company on Tuesday released iSketch, a program that lets personal digital assistant (PDA) owners handwrite notes and make sketches on their devices, and then wirelessly send them as if they were e-mail, via infrared or cellular networks. The iSketch also compresses and encrypts messages, which can be sent to PCs or other handhelds.

The software works only with handhelds that run on the Palm operating system.

This application and others like it are part of a wave of software designed to expand the versatility of wireless handhelds. Wireless carriers and hardware makers are scrambling to popularize new services to make handhelds more appealing. Likewise, software developers are shifting attention to wireless devices.

Similar to iSketch, Intel will soon come out with an application called Ink Messaging that lets people exchange handwritten notes on PDAs via instant messaging. The application is first likely to emerge in Asia, though, because of the difficulty of typing Asian characters on the virtual keyboard of most handhelds. Internet service providers in Asia are test-driving the application.

IDC analyst Kevin Burden said such new technology will help change the perception of handhelds.

"Most people still think of PDAs as just content devices," Burden said. "But wireless capabilities make them more than that, and communications is certainly an eye-opening feature."

Craig Peddle, a general manager at Motorola, said the company is in talks with cell phone and PDA makers to incorporate the iSketch technology into devices. Peddle confirmed that Motorola is in ongoing talks with Palm to preinstall iSketch in its PDAs.

"iSketch is the foundation for lightweight multimedia capabilities suitable for PDAs with limited bandwidth," Peddle said. "Messaging is the introductory capability allowing consumers to communicate more effectively through short messages."

The $10 iSketch program is available for download at PalmGear.com and Handango. A more advanced version is on the way and will be available by the end of the year. Peddle said that the next generation of iSketch will include animated clips.